Sam shut the door to her room, wincing at the loud creak. Trainees were not supposed to be out of bed at this hour. Tristan had never specified the punishment for breaking curfew, but she doubted it would be good. “Maybe we should wake Tristan,” she whispered. “He'd know what to do.”
“We don't have time to convince him the threat is real,” said Braeden.
“Why wouldn't he believe you?”
“Why should he?”
Sam had no answer to that. “Braeden--” she started. He put his finger to his lips.
Tristan wrenched his door open, wearing a dark scowl. “What do you two think you're doing?”
Braeden shot her a reproachful glance—she hadn't been that loud—and then swept a bow. “Please accept my apologies, Paladin Lyons, but you’ll have to save our dressing-down for another time.” He gripped Sam's shoulder. “Are you coming?”
Sam turned to face Tristan fully, prepared to explain herself, but her mind went blank.
“What’s with the red face, boy?” Tristan asked.
Gods, her blush must be bad if he could see it in this light. “Y-y-your clothes, Paladin,” she stammered. “You aren’t wearing any.” He'd left his room dressed only in his smallclothes.
Tristan looked down, noting the truth of Sam’s words. “Surely you’ve seen a man in his smallclothes before?”
No, she hadn't. “Y-yes, Paladin.”
“Never mind what I’m wearing or not wearing--why are you two out of bed after hours?” he demanded.
“Demons, Paladin,” said Braeden. “They’re in the keep.”
Tristan folded his arms over his chest. “Where is your proof?”
Braeden's gaze flicked to her, as if to say I-told-you-so, and then he pushed up his right sleeve, revealing a sinewy, well-muscled arm. Inked across his shoulder was the roaring head of a lion with a forked, serpentine tongue lolling out of its mouth. Its fur-and-scale mottled torso curled around Braeden’s triceps, and three thick, foxlike tails sprung from its back and wound around his forearm to his wrist. But it wasn’t the design of the fearsome tattoo that monopolized her attention.
The circulation of Braeden’s blood was a visible thing: his blue veins stood out against the thin skin of his arms, and as his blood ebbed and flowed, his skin rose and receded like the waves of the ocean. The tattoo seemed to come alive, its body riding the currents of his skin.
“Their blood calls out to mine,” said Braeden. “When they’re near, my blood responds like this.”
Tristan stared at the undulating skin. “Let’s say you’re right,” he said, with frank disbelief. “Say demons are in The Center. You thought to take them on yourselves? Two untested trainees with half a brain between them?”
Sam opened her mouth to retort, but Braeden silenced her with a slight jerk of his head. “We haven’t the time to worry about protocol or niceties. You can join us or punish us on the morrow.”
Tristan swore under his breath. “Fine,” he grumbled. “Let me get dressed, and then I will escort you to the front lobby. And when there are no demons, I will escort you back to your room, where you will remain for the rest of the night. Are we agreed?”
“Aye,” said Braeden.
“Aye, Paladin,” she echoed.
YOU ARE READING
Sam is the most promising swordsman among this year’s crop of Paladin trainees...and knows it. Brash, cocky, and unbeatable with a sword (well, almost), Sam is the kingdom of Thule’s best hope against the violence wrought by demons. The only problem...